With crisis becoming the norm, we need to nurture an optimistic mindset to drive solutions during periods of uncertainty.
The Bloomberg weekend newsletter coined the phrase “The Slog Economy”, and I audibly groaned. Reading along, it helped define a lot of what many people are experiencing emotionally while slogging it out at work, and I can imagine this is not the most optimistic attitude to wake up to every morning as a recession looms.
Having survived and adapted through four economic and global recessions since the late 80s, I’ve brought together some guidance on how to regain optimism to break out of the anxiety-doom cycle and bring back a sense of creativity, innovation and purpose.
What is optimism?
Liz Mascolo, the business unit director at US food manufacturer General Mills, defines optimism as being able to focus on a positive outcome.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily shiny and happy at all moments of the day,” she says. “But it does mean that you have an ability to look at a situation and while it might be tough, you’re able to see around that corner and see the possibility… versus the difficulty.”
Reminding yourself that you have been optimistic in the past means you can choose optimism now, despite facing unprecedented change.
What resources do we need to nourish optimism?
Not being able to handle compounding stressors has led to what we now know as the “Great Resignation”, “Quiet Quitting”, an exacerbation of suicides, and a tidal wave of early retirees boomeranging back to work. This is Change Fatigue and it’s quite the slog for everyone. The result: disengagement at work, whispering (quite loudly) a lack of trust in the capitalist norm.
What we need to do day after day is hard, but you can choose another way.
It sounds simple, but we need to find optimism to generate hope, purpose and mission – ideally in a collaborative environment, with friends, loved ones, and colleagues to drive new results.
This will take some energy to muster. We know we are better with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, so with crisis cycles becoming the norm, we need to foster growth and nurture an optimistic mindset to drive solutions during periods of uncertainty. This has always been the unicorn mindset of cherished leaders as they can inspire and engage teams to weather uncertainty by collaborating to innovate.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. We’ve all been feeling overly traumatized since March 2020 and the knocks keep coming. Unless you chose firefighting or ER nursing or police work as a profession, you didn’t sign up to save lives with the expectation of traumatic aftershocks. On a global scale, we are facing similar mental health issues as we collectively come to terms with a capitalist landscape of moral injury and the pounding waves of current cyclical trends impacting work, home and the economic, societal or global environment. We are facing collective trauma and there’s no societal agreement on what to do next.
What do we need to do?
In October 2022, the US surgeon general provided organizational leaders with a mental health and wellness framework; a system of human sustainability to sustain employee engagement which will build upon business sustainability. Executive coaches, organizational psychologists and culture officers have been saying this all along to leaders in organizations: working on human sustainability is good for business.
Whether you’re transforming your organization towards stakeholder capitalism, or adapting the way you engage and lead your team to become more invested in your organization’s mission, start with my top 12 questions to help you find optimism, purpose and mission:
- When was the last time you felt optimistic?
- What actions did you take during that time?
- What was your mission and purpose?
- What did you instinctively communicate to encourage others?
- What mission and purpose do you need today?
- What do your team and stakeholders need from you?
- What do you need to drive your loved ones, team and stakeholders forward?
- What might you learn to empower yourself, your family, your team and stakeholders further?
- How do you normally push through ambiguity to solve issues? What can you tweak to change that?
- What step can you take today?
- What do you want to say you will achieve in one year? What will progress look like in one month?
- Is now a good time to feel optimistic?
Yes, change fatigue and the slog effect are tough – but as one of my executive coaching clients has said time and again this past year: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” There are always new models, standards and practices that have the potential to be created or readjusted. Betterment will happen, and it can happen if you choose.
Caroline Stokes, CEC, PCC is a Business Sustainability and Leadership Development Executive Coach, and the author of Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent Strategies To Save Your Company (Entrepreneur Press, 2019.)